No matter how good the technology is and will become, contact centers will always be about the success of people. And while creating an environment of successful people has many factors, in many cases, success comes down to one thing – leadership.
I am not talking about the leadership that is offered by the CEO or Vice President (although their impact is important); instead, I am talking about the leadership at the front lines. In my opinion, there is not any place in the organization where leadership depends more on the relationships between two people – the leader and their direct reports.
In some cases, leadership skills are a gift of nature – some people are born with the attributes of leaders. In most cases, however, it is taught and mentored by a parent, sibling, or relative - or a direct result of an investment by a teacher or business mentor. In any case, it is a skill that must be developed and nurtured through constant learning and feedback from other leaders.
John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence… nothing more, nothing less.” He often speaks and writes about two key elements of influence – trust and vulnerability. People can only be influenced by other people if they know that the person has their needs and their success as a focus. And isn’t that the definition of trust?
When my son was a teenager, we often talked about trust - and how it is not given as a result of one experience, but a series of experiences over time. I explained that I trusted him to tell me the truth even when it was not easy, to level with me when he needed my help, and to be willing to give me feedback when I was not measuring up as a dad. We also talked about how easy it is to lose trust - and that once lost, it will take even longer to get back. The same is true for leaders. Our teams will judge us not on what we say, but what we do - day after day.
Vulnerability is also a required attribute of a great leader. It is the bridge to making deep connections with our teams. While some people may see vulnerability as a weakness, I love how the writer and speaker Brené Brown eloquently describes the necessity for vulnerability. Her TedTalk “The Power of Vulnerability” is one of the most-watched TedTalks of all time. She talks about the need to bring your whole self to your role as a manager. My favorite quote is: “Vulnerability is having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it's our greatest measure of courage.” Exposing a personal weakness is often a path for someone else to share their stories - to also be vulnerable. And this is the magic moment when relationships are at their best.
Not too long ago, I found myself leading a new team. During my first week, I was meeting with all team members in one-on-one sessions. I remember one such meeting with a direct report. The goal of the meeting was similar to an interview or perhaps a first date. I can imagine that we were both a little nervous. I wanted to show my experience - and confirm my qualifications as his new manager. I assume he was feeling similar - probably planning to talk about his experience in the industry - and validate his role on the team.
At some point, the conversation turned to personal questions and I asked about his family. He shared details at a high level - but nothing deep. He asked about my family. I talked about my amazing son, his wife, and my first grandson (I have two now - and they are the joy of my life). But, while I was sharing the good, I realized that if I wanted to be real in the conversation, I also had to be vulnerable. I had just been through one of the lowest times in my life - and the trauma and grief were still pretty raw. My 34-year-old daughter had died just over a year earlier - after four years of courageously fighting stage 4 cancer.
With unexpected tears in my eyes, I talked about how it had re-shaped my life, my priorities, and my goals for a better life-work balance. What happened next proves that being vulnerable often leads to others being vulnerable, as well: He began to tell me about recent grief in his life. He told me the story of how his older brother also had died from cancer. He shared how close they had been - and said it was actually the catalyst for him choosing to work in the healthcare industry. The conversation became more about life than about work. It was a moment when we both became people. He learned about my story, and I learned about his. Looking back, I realize it was also brave and vulnerable for him to share his story with me - as his new leader.
Since that time, we have grown alongside each other - him teaching me about the healthcare industry and me sharing insights about contact centers. However, it was most gratifying when he was recently promoted. I did not just see a great co-worker - a customer-focused technologist with crazy-positive skills. Instead, I saw someone who was reaching his life goals. Someone that was living life with purpose. I saw a person! Vulnerability does that to relationships.
There is no doubt that much of what we do as leaders is built on our ability to build better relationships. And better relationships always start with a personal connection. If we seek to become more vulnerable and authentic, our teams will see a human being - not just a manager. And as the connection and relationship flourishes, they may become more open with their opinions and issues. They will be more open about their dreams and aspirations. This, in turn, gives us the ability to remove barriers and perhaps understand their role (and our own) better.
By being vulnerable, we often create a circle of trust that leads to becoming a better leader!
Learn more about the story of Bob’s daughter - and the new nonprofit Keesha Warrior Princess that he and his wife founded earlier this year in her honor. They are on a mission to save lives by increasing the early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer in women age 25-45 through education and community.
For almost 40 years, Bob Furniss' career has focused on helping companies improve their customer experience. Bob recently joined Slalom Consulting as the Practice Director for their Global Salesforce organization. He and his team deliver customer success in the areas of service and support strategies - across all digital channels - with a focus on the world’s top customer engagement platform, Salesforce. As a consultant, he has worked with many of the top brands across the globe.
Bob is proud to have received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from ICMI in 2017 for his work in the contact center industry. He writes for industry publications, is active on Twitter and was named as one of the Top 50 #CCTR Thought Leaders on Twitter in 2015-2019.
On a personal note, Bob is married with two children and two amazing grandsons. He lives in Memphis, TN, loves photography and is an avid Pittsburgh Steeler fan. He and his wife recently launched a nonprofit, in honor of his daughter’s life, that focuses on education and early detection of breast cancer in women 25-40.